Each day from June 6-30, ETSN will release one story in a countdown of the top 25 East Texas football recruits for the class of 2019. The following is the first installment on No. 25, DeKendrick Bender. 

MARSHALL -- DeKendrick Bender takes his East Texas roots seriously.

It's why Bender, a 2019 receiver for Marshall, models his game after NFL free agent and former Lufkin Panther receiver Dez Bryant. Although Bender admires Bryant's speed, ball skills and size, which make him a prime red zone target, it's the flair, confidence and passion with which Bryant plays that he looks to emulate the most.

"He’s one of those kids that feels nobody can guard him," Maverick coach Claude Mathis said. "He’s very confident in his ability."

Bender went down with a minor hamstring injury at a practice this spring. Where most players might have relished the chance for a breather, he was ready to go again the next play. Concerned for his player's safety, Mathis had to force him to sit out a few reps.

"The competitive spirit in him wanted to get out there," Mathis said. "I love that. I want to see that out of my players. If I’m not seeing that out of my players, we’ve got a problem. That just made me love him even more.”

A look at Bender's highlights from this past season reveals why Air Force and Texas State have already offered scholarships. He shows versatility, going up for balls in the corner of the end zone one play and using his agility to leave defenders behind the next. During another play, he simply bulldozes his way through would-be tacklers for a touchdown.

Mathis said Bender (6-1, 180) has gained more muscle this offseason and should be an even more physical player next season, a harrowing thought for defenses.

"His body is really filled out now," he said. "He put a lot of time into it. He’s a lot more physical receiver than he was before."

Bender listed Arkansas State and Southern Miss as schools that have expressed interest but have yet to offer a scholarship. He knows to acquire more offers, he'll need to improve upon last season. He cited route running and foot speed as areas of emphasis this offseason.

High school is stressful enough as is, but the added pressure a player faces from coaches and fans during the recruiting process is a lot to handle. Bender has gotten through it by leaning on his brother, an oil field worker whom he said has been a father figure to him.

"(He taught me) how to carry myself and have the right mindset and right attitude," Bender said. "With this college stuff, he told me to be patient. God wouldn’t put nothing on my hands that I couldn’t handle and to make to right decision. He’s on me every day.”

Bender said he plans to study journalism and would like to become a sports analyst after his playing days are over. When he decides on a school, he will do so with more than athletics in mind.

“I want to be in the best position to get further than football," he said. "I want to be a better person and make sure that my life is set after football.”

The 2018 season kicks off in a little less than three months, with the last week of August serving as the season opener for most teams. Marshall is coming off a district championship season in which it started 0-4 but won its final six regular season games.

The Mavericks' receiving corps is loaded, with Bender, Tahj Washington and Savion Williams all holding FBS offers. Bender aims high, hoping to lead the group. After posting 564 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago, he has his sights set on 1,000 and 10 this year.

He's thankful for where he is, but knows to reach those goals he can't be complacent.

“I want to become a better leader for my team, lead by example and lead the receiving group," he said. "The starting three receivers all have Division I offers. We’ve got to show why we’ve got those offers.”

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